Developing as a culturally humble global citizen

Senior Patrick Smith enhances his education with service in Ghana with Unite for Sight

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For more photos and details of Patrick's Ghana experience, read his blog, One Foot Forth, at https://pd94smith.wordpress.com .

Patrick Smith, a senior in the College of Nursing, is committed to advancing global development and public health by supporting the growth of locally-developed, high impact health systems. Unite for Sight, a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2000 with the purpose of delivering quality eye care to poor and vulnerable populations within Ghana, India, and Honduras, shares this vision. By partnering with local health professionals to provide mobile eye care, health teaching, fully-funded cataract surgeries, and affordable treatments for chronic and acute conditions, Unite for Sight eliminates numerous barriers to care, including transportation, cost, and public misconceptions regarding eye care. This dedicated program has provided routine eye care, as well as complex eye surgeries, to over 1.9 million people, many of whom have little to no access to healthcare.

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Outreach optometrist, Ernest, conducts an eye exam on one of 250 patients seen this day as part of the Crystal Eye Clinic program. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Smith)

This past summer, Patrick embarked on an 8 week volunteer trip to Ghana.  In preparation for his trip, Patrick received specialized training in eye health, public health, international development, and global health research.  In addition to personal supplies needed for the trip, Patrick was also responsible for obtaining and bringing 600 pairs of reading glasses to Ghana.  Through daily outreach trips, at which a clinic may assess and treat up to 450 patients, these eyeglasses have been distributed to patients in numerous villages throughout Ghana.

Patrick’s top priority during this trip was to aid dedicated clinicians, who include ophthalmologists, nurses and specially trained volunteers, in providing quality eye care to rural-dwelling populations in Ghana.  Throughout his experience, Patrick assisted with visual acuity screenings, ophthalmic examinations, and dispensation of eyeglasses and/or medications to thousands of people.  He also had the opportunity to observe hundreds of ophthalmic surgeries, including small incision cataract surgeries and pterygium removals (removal of a non-cancerous growth occurring in people with a lot of sun exposure, particularly near the equator, that can cause irritation and affect vision).

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Ernest, Crystal Eye Clinic’s outreach optometrist, giving a talk on eye health to assembled patients. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Smith)

Some of the more distant villages can take several hours to reach by bus which can account for long and grueling days for clinic staff.  During one particularly long day, which started around 9 a.m., the staff and volunteers of Crystal Eye Clinic treated more than 400 patients in a village church.  As day faded into evening, large crowds gave way to a gospel choir practice, and then to a lecture on marriage from a local pastor.  With the sun setting and a substantial group of patients remaining, Patrick’s team used headlamps to illuminate the area as they distributed medications and eyeglasses to the remaining patients. At 8:05 p.m., two hours after the sun had set, medication was dispensed to the last patient and staff loaded into the vans to begin the long trip back to the clinic. 

Through this trip, Patrick sought to increase his knowledge of Ghanaian culture while building lasting cross-cultural relationships.  One personal item that Patrick could not leave home without was his ukulele, and with the help of this instrument, Patrick was able to befriend Kofi and Rahina, staff members at the hotel where he stayed.  As Patrick assisted them in learning the ukulele, they, in turn, helped him to learn the basics of Twi, one of the primary languages spoken throughout southern and central Ghana.  Throughout the trip, Patrick also enjoyed several hallmarks of traditional Ghanaian cuisine, including banku (cassava and fermented corn), fufu (mashed plantain and cassava), jollof (rice with vegetables and spices), and fried plantains.

Patrick’s experience in Ghana, while challenging at times, was, as he has noted, “immensely rewarding.” By embracing Ghanaian culture and adapting to unfamiliar circumstances, including limited internet access and “elastic” time, Patrick has “grown in [his] desire to advance health equity, cross-cultural relationships, and social justice as a culturally humble global citizen.”